But make no mistake, this was Vlad Guerrero Jr.’s Home Run Derby. He didn’t win the final round, but he won our hearts. He blasted homer after homer — 91 total — on his way to becoming The Peoples’ Champ.
Ninety-one homers dwarfed Alonso’s three-round total of 56, but that’s the trade-off for the Derby’s exciting bracket-style setup that has reinvigorated this event in the past five years. You don’t have to hit the most homers. You just have to win the final round.
So Alonso got the prizes and the history book, but Vlad Jr. damn sure got the glory.
"Oh my God,” Pete Alonso said about Vlad Jr. after his win. “He was so fun to watch. I'm glad I didn't face him in the earlier rounds. Or he probably would have knocked me out."
In the first round, Vlad Jr. hit 29 homers, breaking the record for most in a single round. He matched that in the next round, before getting into an edge-of-your-seat triple tiebreaker with Joc Pederson. By the end of the second round, Guerrero had 69 homers — breaking the record for most homers in a single derby, which belonged to Giancarlo Stanton when he hit 61 in 2016. Vlad was nearly out of gas after those tiebreakers, and while he managed a respectable 22 homers in the final round, it wasn’t enough to hold off Alonso.
Who cares what the record book says. This was the night one of baseball’s most hyped young prospects became one of the game’s biggest stars. This was Vlad Jr. in all of his tater-mashing glory, announcing his presence on the big stage, living up to his famous father’s name, easily winning over the local crowd and no doubt selling a few more No. 27 Toronto Blue Jays jerseys in the process.
Round after round, Guerrero was hitting lasers into the left field bleachers, most of them landing in the two sections of seats under the left side of Progressive Field’s scoreboard. It quickly turned into Vlad Jr. country. They started booing Joc Pederson as he pushed Vlad Jr. to all those tiebreakers. They chanted “Vlad-dy, Vlad-dy!” as he came to bat and left the field.
Robert Ivory wore Vlad Sr.’s Montreal Expos jersey, carried a cutout of Vlad Jr.’s head. He’s a big enough fan of Vlad Sr. that he went to his Hall of Fame induction ceremony. He likes the Indians too — this is Cleveland after all — but he grew up in the era where so many baseball fans were in awe of free-swinging Vlad Guerrero. And now we’re all in awe of his baseball-bashing 20-year-old son.
“It’s indescribable,” Ivory said of Vlad Jr.’s performance. “Seriously. What can you say?”
— Mike Oz (@mikeoz) July 9, 2019
He felt like he scored a piece of history when he caught one of Vlad Jr’s second-round homers. As did Tom Zackasee, whose season tickets in the front row of Section 180 paid off on Monday night. He caught two Vlad Jr. homers.
“I moved my season tickets here three years ago just to get a shot at the Home Run Derby,” Zackasee said. “I told my friend, we probably have the best chance to catch a ball from [Vlad Jr.]. I saw him warming up and he was crushing ‘em. It’s the memory of a lifetime.”
And when he tells those stories in the future, maybe he’ll include the footnote that Vlad Jr. didn’t actually win the Home Run Derby that night. But that will come after the 91 homers, after the amazing tiebreaker rounds when he wouldn’t die, after he recounts the the excitement of the performance that blew the mind of every baseball fan watching.
This was one of those “I remember where I was when it happened” nights. This was a story parents will tell their children. It was the thing of legends —the night a 20-year-old with a Hall of Fame dad made us all believe.
“This is only his first year,” Ivory said. “It’s gonna be crazy how big he gets.”
Makes you wonder if one day Vlad Jr. can break 100 homers in a single Derby. It might be the only thing that could top this.
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